I recently had an opportunity to be at the Maha Kumbh Mela at Prayag (Allahabad). It is the world largest human gathering in one place with millions of people assembled at the SANGAM, the confluence of the three rivers of Ganga, Yamuna and Saraswati. It was a sight to see and digest the enormity of the spiritual and religious significance of the place itself. One is spell bound by the extent to which the eyes can see the spread of the place and people having the holy dip in the river. One is able to see a massive makeshift city with all possible arrangements for the devotees and visitors from ordinary people to the VVIPs, from small Sadhus to high profile saints, from self proclaimed God men to religious leaders, all for the purpose of salvation and a better life.
Although, I had a better understanding of what triggers people in India and the masses who are looking for something to hold on to and be able to create an identity for them self, there is something more interesting that I noticed and that is the two real faces of India. The divide is so apparent that you cannot miss it. At one end of the river there is so much glory and at the other end there is so much misery and poverty that is visible.
The disparity in India is not just restricted to economic and social disparity, we also find that even at the place of God there are the haves and the have not’s and they all are served by the middlemen who are the path to reach God.
At one end of the river which is the new area in the Mela are located, the shivirs of the great saints who serve the interests of the rich and the powerful. They are the intermediaries between the rich and God. These include the likes of Swami of Parmarth Niketan, Shri Shri Ravi Shankar, Asharam Bapu, Murari Bapu and a lot more of the same stature. Their following consist of the people from the upper strata of Indian society with most of them having followers from the international community as well. The photograph above is one such camp where the high and the mighty visit throughout the day and night. They have very good accommodation for their VIP guests, and they are treated like kings. I can’t say that their camps are not open to those from the lower strata of society but none are visible around the place. The camps are guarded by state police personnel with guns, may be they are there to protect the VVIPs who are coming in their fancy cars with red lights flashing all along throughout the day. Special arrangements are made for the VIPs to visit the Sangam and all doors are open for them.
What a way to reach God, the easy way for some. These camps are a true reflection of the divisions in our society. The other interesting part of this side of the river is that they are all so concerned about the poor and want to do so much for them. I guess that is how they get donations to expand their religious empires. It is like many of our National socialites, who have NGOs through which they help the poor. In the name of the poor they have misused the funds to their advantage. Having said this, I want my readers to understand that I am not putting anyone down or hurting the sentiments of anyone; this is just my own reflection of what I have seen and felt. It is my way to saying what I see in the Kumbh Mela is a true reflection of our society and that even in the house of God we have a divide that is visible. I hope God is witness to this type of event. Is this the kind of religion and spirituality that we want to embrace?
The other side of the River is another story, this is where Bharat lives. These are the millions who are shivering in the cold around fire burning with food being cooked in small makeshift tents. There are no red light flashing cars, in fact everyone seems to be on foot. There is water all over and people walking through them, there are no red or green carpets all over. These are just ordinary people of Bharat who also want a place in the house of God. Their middlemen are the small time Sadhus and babas who are a reflection of the community they serve.
What a contrast and how ever religion has not been left from the reality of the haves and the have not’s. This is my India, a country of so much diversity in field of social, economic and religion. But a Nations that is held together through a tight tope called spirituality and trust me there is still true happiness on this side of the river Ganges.